SIMI VALLEY — It could be someone's attic, a jumble of clothes, souvenirs, weird art and weirder furnishings.
Except that scattered throughout--next to faded flags, old quilts and woodcarvings--lie precious stones and crowns of gold.
Every object, from gilded treasure to oddball junk, was given as a gift to a president of the United States. And for the next six months, this mismatched collection of presidential presents will stay on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
The National Archives did the actual work on the exhibit, combing the country's presidential libraries for the best gifts and then mounting the show last year in Washington, and the collection's stay in Simi Valley represents a coup for the library.
No other museum will host the exhibit. Once it closes in November, the individual gifts return to their home libraries, to be tucked back into display cases or packed into storage.
"In order to see what you're going to see here, you'd have to visit all of the other presidential libraries," said Reagan Library Director Mark Hunt. "And even then, that wouldn't be a guarantee, since a lot of this stuff hasn't been out in a while."
Lisa Auel, who spent more than two years assembling the exhibit for the National Archives, said other libraries would like to play host to the exhibit but can't because of limited space, finances or staffing.
"It takes a lot of effort and time," she said.
Indeed, Reagan Library staffers were still swarming over the collection Friday morning, scant hours before the opening reception that night. The day's first tourists trickling into the library found themselves wandering through a half-ready exhibit, as workers fitted glass cases over the knickknacks, aiming lights at the precious jewels.
Hunt had the look of someone short on sleep after an entire night of working on the displays. But he still held a kind of puzzled wonder at some of the gifts in his hands.
The first display case held a simple present, a small model tank given by an army sergeant to President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Fort Knox. Nearby stood an elaborate, brightly glazed dove of peace with a Soviet flag on one wing and U.S. flag on the other--a gift to Reagan from Mikhail Gorbachev.
Perhaps the most elaborate gift was from the president of Pakistan: a portrait of Reagan done entirely in shades of the stone lapis lazuli, save for the ruby on his tie tack and the diamonds glinting from his eyes.
Heads of state accounted for the more lavish gifts, but many of the items on display came from ordinary U.S. citizens. Cowboy boots for Dwight Eisenhower. An Eskimo carving for Lyndon B. Johnson. A fishing rod for George Bush.
What struck Hunt as he walked through the collection was the amount of care and sentiment behind the gifts.
"People put a lot of thought into what to give their president," he said.
Several pieces are pointedly political. A wood carving of Richard Nixon, for example, shows the president with his hand and hind end caught in hunting traps, one labeled "Vietnam," the other "Laos." The piece is titled "OOPS!?"
For visitors Friday morning, the sentimental pieces had the most effect. Carol Odell of Albuquerque was struck by a simple flag made by an American soldier while he was held captive in Vietnam.
"It's just one man and his patriotism," she said. "It's poignant." The exhibit is on display through November at the library, which is open seven days a week. Admission is free today but normally costs $4 for adults and $2 for seniors; children enter free.